Being a city dweller, I appreciate the small footprint of the 2014 Ford Fiesta. I was able to sneak this small hatchback down narrow streets, slip around double-parked trucks, and, most importantly, find parking.
However, the steep hills of San Francisco almost proved too much for the engine's meager 120 horsepower.
Ford updated the Fiesta's styling and cabin tech for the 2014 model year, but left the engine alone. Well, mostly. The company promises a Fiesta model with its 1-liter EcoBoost engine early next year. But more on that one later.
The front of the new Fiesta comes adorned with the big, wide-mouthed grille seen on the Focus and Fusion models. It's a signature Ford piece right now, and brings a cohesive look to the models. I had my doubts about whether the little Fiesta needed all this air intake acreage, as the previous model year, with the same engine, had the narrowest little slit for a grille.
The roofline looks a little less curved than the previous-model-year Fiesta. The liftback in particular seems more vertical, which should contribute to cargo space. Ford also offers the Fiesta as a sedan, but I'm a much bigger fan of the hatchback for its general practicality and sportier look.
An economy play
A sporty look unfortunately does not mean a powerful engine. Like the previous few model years, the Fiesta still comes standard with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, a mundane little mill that produces 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. With this engine, the Fiesta is purely an economy play.
The example I had in my hands came in the top Titanium trim, but also had the standard five-speed manual instead of the available six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission. I was happy with the manual transmission, as I could get the most out of the engine's limited power.
It may seem strange that, while Ford reports fuel economy for the manual transmission version as 27 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, the automatic transmission version gets 29 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. That difference comes partly down to the fact the automatic has six forward gears, and that it is an automated manual transmission. Unlike traditional automatic transmissions that use a torque converter, Ford's PowerShift transmission uses two computer-controlled clutches, making it more efficient.
I was disappointed to see the manual transmission was only a five-speed, when a sixth gear might have improved the highway fuel economy figure a bit. As it was, the engine had to work a little harder, spinning above 3,000rpm, when I hit freeway speeds.
A little bolstering on the manually adjusted, leather-covered seats kept them comfortable, and I liked the soft-touch materials on the dashboard. As this Fiesta had the Titanium trim, I could keep the key fob in my pocket and start the engine with a button push.
Like just about all new cars, the Fiesta has electric power-steering boost. Ford tuned it for natural-feeling heft, and managed to dampen out the electric motor noise. With 16-inch wheels, the steering didn't need much boost, but I still appreciated how easily I could turn the wheel when the car was stopped.
When cornering or just heading down the road, I found a bit of looseness in the feel of the steering. The steering reacts to input, but it feels a little soft, probably something Ford tuned intentionally to keep the car from seeming twitchy. The Fiesta is aimed at more casual drivers, which covers most of the populace.
Similarly, the manual gear shifter's gate felt pretty sloppy. Instead of precise shifts into each gear, each slot felt as big as a garage door. It is a comfortable shifter to use, however, so might work well when training people to drive with a proper transmission.
On a freeway merge, the manual transmission let me keep the engine speed high, winding up to 5,000rpm before each shift. Running that fast, the engine drones like it's ready to pull loose from its mounts and shoot through the hood.
Given the lack of power, and the loose shifter and steering, the Fiesta feels designed as a suburban commute car and errand runner. Decent fuel economy increases its allure for these uses. With some significant highway stretches coupled with slow city driving, I easily pulled fuel economy in the mid-30s.
The firm but competent ride quality was fitting for a car in the subcompact segment. The car jounced around from rough patches in the road, but there was no sustained damper bounce. I was also impressed with how well the Fiesta handled some fast cornering, as the suspension refused to let the car lean over much. The suspension promised nimble handling, but the steering wasn't precise enough for the the task.